Rum is an interesting spirit. Those drinkers who love it will tell you that it’s complex, and nuanced, and when aged, it rivals some of the best whiskeys in the world. But it just doesn’t seem to get the love single malt Scotch whisky, bourbon, rye, Japanese whisky, and other barrel-aged spirits get. We think that’s a shame. While there are lower-end (sometimes bottom shelf) white rums on the market that are used almost exclusively for mixing, there are countless aged, dark rums that deserve to be sipped neat, on the rocks, or with a few drops of water to open them up.
Some are so great that after just one sip, you remember them forever. So that’s exactly what we asked a few well-known bartenders — “What’s the most game-changing, memorable sip of rum you’ve ever had?” Keep scrolling to see all of the sugarcane-based selections.
Ron Del Barrilito 3 Star
Erica Dimmig, lead mixologist at Hotel Pendry in Chicago
Average Price: $65
Puerto Rico is home to some of the best rums in the world. I remember having my first sip of Ron Del Barrilito 3 Star in an old fashioned. My mind was blown and forever changed my view on the ways rum can be enjoyed. As a spirit, rum is generally vastly underrated, meaning high-quality brands are priced at incredible value.
This 3-star rum packs a punch in flavor bombs of banana, caramel, and toasted almonds and has a surprisingly smoky and woody finish.
Mount Gay XO
Alex Clark, lead bartender at Square 1682 in Philadelphia
Average Price: $60
My best sip of rum is Mount Gay XO. This is a great-priced spirit that has way more character than the $50 price tag that’s on the bottle. People go crazy over bourbon and Scotch in the stores and that reflects the price of them but, rum seems to be the forgotten spirit.
This rum has very similar notes to bourbon because it’s aged in American oak. Cloves and caramel show up on the first sip and on the backend, you get a rich vanilla and berry flavor.
Zacapa No. 23 Centenario
Ricardo Cubais, director of food and beverage at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach in Oxnard, California
Average Price: $50
Coming from Central America, I am partial to Zacapa Centenario Rum from Guatemala. It is made from local sugar cane and then barrel aged at high altitudes. All these contribute to the “terroir” of the rum.
This is a complex rum, featuring flavors like caramel, cinnamon sugar, vanilla, dried fruits, honey, and orange peels.
Donny Largotta, beverage director at Gansevoort Meatpacking in New York City
Average Price: $20
The best rum to sip is Bacardi Cuatro, due to its incredible flavor profile. It gets its name because it’s a blend of rums each aged for at least four years. The result is a surprisingly complex, inexpensive bottle of rum.
Featuring mild notes of vanilla and clover honey topped with a toasted oak and toffee finish, it makes it the perfect taste for sipping.
Foursquare Exceptional Cask 2007
Brandon Ristaino, co-founder and beverage director at Good Lion Hospitality in Santa Barbara, California
Average Price: $90
The best sip of rum I’ve ever had is from the Exceptional Cask Selections of Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. It’s difficult to narrow it down to one precise sip, as I’ve been lucky to have so many amazing sips of these rums from Master Distiller Richard Seale over the years. But if I had to, I would pick Foursquare Exceptional Cask 2007, a blend of rums, each at least twelve years old, all aged in ex—bourbon barrels.
The age statements, techniques, barrels, and proofs vary in Richard’s bottlings, but I’ve found them to be consistently excellent from mark to mark, and the flavors profiles are always exciting; and range from classic notes of baking spice, brown sugar, and tropical fruit to leather, mushroom, and nuts.
Paranubes Oaxaca Añejo Rum
Guillermo Bravo, bartender at Vol. 39 in Chicago
Average Price: $62
I’m a big fan of Paranubes Añejo Oaxacan Rum. Rum is in my opinion one of the wildest categories of spirits. I can put rums in front of you from South Asia Pacific, Mexico, Africa, and the US east coast to name a few.
The Paranubes tastes like salty black olives with a hint of vegetal molasses. It’s glorious.
Copalli Barrel Rested Rum
Will Krepop, beverage director at Wiggle Room in New York City
Average Price: $35
Copalli Barrel Rested Rum is one of my favorites at the moment. Made sustainably in the rainforest in Belize, it really speaks to the terroir of the land where the sugarcane is grown, without being too intense or funky for those who aren’t used to rums made from fresh sugarcane juice, rather than molasses.
Bold aromas of fresh leather, dried fruits, and vanilla lead you to a palate of caramel, oak, tropical fruit, and gentle spices.
Camazotz Oaxacan Rum
Alex Barbatsis, head bartender at The Whistler in Chicago
Average Price: $49
Camazotz Oaxacan Rum is my current favorite sipper. It has amazing bold vegetal notes and a soft sweetness when over ice. It’s versatile in cocktails, making a wild and delicious rum negroni and a phenomenal Cuba libre when mixed with Mexican Coke and fresh lime.
It’s vegetal, earthy, and herbal with light vanilla and spices. It’s a very versatile rum that belongs on your home bar cart.
The Hampden The Great House 2021
Garth Poe, bar manager of Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Average Price: $125
The Hampden The Great House 2021 is the best sip of rum I can remember. This expression is truly an old-school Jamaican rum and it is absolutely phenomenal. A blend of rums, distilled, aged, and bottled at the renowned Jamaican distillery, it’s a can’t-miss rum.
Tons of tropical fruit and strawberries on the nose with a small hint of that delicious funk that is so characteristic of Jamaican rums. On the palate, there are wonderful notes of cacao, wood spices, and very ripe bananas.
Barrell Rum Taste of Two Islands
Adnan Kahn, food and beverage director at FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in Chicago
Average Price: $95
Barrell Rum Taste of Two Islands is my favorite memorable sip. It’s a Jamaican pot still rum with incredible Smoky flavors. This is because this blend of rum at least eight years old is finished in Islay single malt Scotch casks and released at cask strength.
This is a very fruity rum with notes of ripe pineapple, honey, dried fruits, vanilla, and a nice kick of smoke from the smoky Islay barrels it finished in.